Barring some multimillion dollar windfall for UC, I won’t be teaching in the College of Arts next year. They’ve already cut travel funding for permanent staff, but as contract staff I didn’t have access to that fund anyway. But there’s a teaching-adaptations conference in Tasmania in February. I hope to schedule some away-from-the-uni time to check out some of the most incredible (usually green) architecture around. It’s also the home of the great fictional Aussie Rules player Geoff Hayward. I might even spot a Tasmanian wolf and make some coin. So I sent out an abstract about how I teach She’s the Man,which is perhaps the worst movie I have taught more than once. Note: The CINE 101 students who argue for Vigil are wrong. On to the abstract.

“The worse it is the better: On teaching sub-par film adaptations”

One of the problems with teaching film adaptations of canonical works of literature is that such adaptations are often used to illustrate the literature rather than to study film in its own right. The canon may have expanded in our lifetime, but it still consists of a limited number of texts with a presumed shared greatness – and our students know this. My paper outlines an approach that asks students to locate the rules that underwrite the canon. Assigning “bad” adaptations is one way to help students query canon formation by demanding a definition and defense of the canon.

I argue that we can teach “bad” adaptations “backwards”: the lecturer argues for the greatness of the “bad” film over, for example, Shakespeare, forcing students to articulate exactly what makes Shakespeare worthy of canonization. Such an approach locates the process of canon formation in the classroom and places the responsibility in student hands.

I use the 2006 Twelfth Night adaptation She’s the Man as my example. She’s the Man will never be accused of committing greatness to film. Teaching it seems like masochism at best, and sadism at worst. Yet, as my paper shows, teaching a “bad” adaptation makes the questions – and answers – about contemporary political and cultural life that adapting canonical works makes possible much more readily accessible. That is to say, if we reimagine She’s the Man’s many failures as virtues, and Twelfth Night’s many virtues as failures,we can not only articulate the boundaries and functions of the canon, but we can also address the problems and politics of canon formation in a way that affirms the role that literature plays in cultural life.

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